The World Cup is an unforgiving beast. One moment you and your country are celebrating emerging from the group stage and the next, you may be catching a plane home.
The next set of matches on December 4th consist of reigning champs France against Robert Lewandowski’s Poland, and then England facing off against Senegal. At first glance, anyone would say there are two clear favorites here in France and England. However, this edition of the World Cup has proven time and time again that being the favorite means nothing, other than the potential to be extremely upset by a “lesser” team that leaves it all out on the pitch. Expect a lot of that from Poland and Senegal, and be prepared for two enjoyable matches.
Here’s a look at day two of this World Cup’s knockout round.
France vs Poland — 10:00 a.m.
How to Watch
FOX, Telemundo, Peacock (premium)
Despite losing Karim Benzema before the tournament ever started, France hasn’t missed much of a step with Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe hitting the back of the net multiple times. They routed Australia 4-1 and beat Denmark 2-1, which was enough to leap ahead and secure their spot in the knockout stage before their third match was ever played. They were lucky enough to be able to rest a majority of their starting lineup against Tunisia in a match they ended up losing 1-0, so needless to say, they’re relaxed and primed for their run back to the final.
Poland, on the other hand, was almost knocked out of the tournament amidst the chaos of Group C. In the final few minutes of their prior match, all Mexico needed to overtake Poland was either a goal of their own or a goal from Argentina, one which Lionel Messi missed on a penalty kick earlier in the match. Mexico couldn’t control their own destiny, and Poland did enough to keep Argentina from giving El Tri a lifeline. Robert Lewandowski will be looking to capitalize on his moment after scoring his first World Cup goal in the group stage, but the Polish team will have to find a way to get him the ball. Unfortunately, their distribution to him has been lacking, and he’s had to find his own ways to get involved in the game.
Player to Watch: Kylian Mbappe
Mbappe propped himself up on the world stage in 2018 when France won it all, and he’s already shown he’s not slowing down. He’s one of the most talented players around right now and he runs the left side of the pitch like nobody’s business. He’ll find a way to get on the board; if he doesn’t, France still has a ton of proven goal scorers who can take advantage of the room he’s going to create.
England vs Senegal — 2 p.m.
How to Watch
FOX, Universo, Peacock (premium)
England can’t fall asleep in this one. This World Cup has proven that England’s kryptonite is heavy pressure, and Senegal is one of the best teams at the tournament at throwing everyone ahead aggressively, almost recklessly. While this strategy may be high risk, high reward - it always is - England have looked poor against the softest of duress. Iran found this out and scored two on them in the first match and the USMNT looked very threatening when they performed the same way.
The other side of that coin is that England can be a very clean team in possession and progression, and they can score goals from just about anywhere (just ask Iran). No matter how the match advances initially, Senegal will need to keep their backline and box locked down or they’re going to be absolutely punished. Also, one guy named Harry Kane will be looking to finally get on the scoresheet, and that should be concerning for anyone not wearing England’s colors.
Player to Watch: Harry Kane
It’s wild that England has scored nine goals in this World Cup and not a single one has come from their most prolific striker, Harry Kane. He’s scored 51 times in 78 matches with The Three Lions, so the phrase “chomping at the bit” is a massive understatement. He’ll be looking to do anything he can to hit the back of the net, and in similar fashion to Robert Lewandowski, he only needs an inch of space.